Acts 2:1-11 Pentecost—C


congregation

Spirit-Filled People

Acts 2:1-11

If suddenly this morning the weather were to change, dark clouds filled the sky, thunder lightning, hailstones, and storm appeared, our reaction would probably be “What’s going on? The weatherman said we were gong to have a perfect day today.” We might be taken aback more if at the same time a large ball of fire appeared in the chancel, broke apart into small tongues of fire, and each landed on someone’s head.

Luke’s description makes it clear that something tremendous happened in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost. There are some dimensions that are not ordinary, ever day occurrences. They are strange, different, unusual.

Our trouble, however, is that we today view this story as a kind of quaint museum piece—an exhibit of things that happened long ago. Certainly strange and unusual, but somehow we fail to see the connection between that event and our lives today.

Yet the early Christians were very much in tune with these events and understood their meaning. God had used these means and methods before. Throughout the Scriptures a storm or great wind is a sign of the presence of God. One of the signs of God’s presence on Mount Sinai was the thunder and lightning in the storm. The same is true of fire. We all recall the pillar of fire that went with Israel from one place to another. When these phenomena occurred in the Scriptures, instead of thinking of weathermen or fire extinguishers, the early Christians immediately thought of God. These were two signs by which God was assuring them of His presence.

As Luke records it: These early Christians were all together in one place says our text. They were gathered for worship and God appeared; He made His presence known. This first Pentecost was an experience of elemental force. Like a cloudburst that overwhelms a parched land, so the Spirit of God came to the first disciples. So while it was a wondrous experience for these early Christians, it may not have been as foreign and strange as it is to us today. Then we here “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Christian church was born.

God’s Presence Today

When we remember this, we can say that this morning, Pentecost 2013, here at Faith Lutheran, and every Sunday morning, is a similar experience for God’s people. But He doesn’t use fire and wind; He has other sign of His presence here, other means that He uses to assure us that He is here. He says, for example, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” He declares that He is present in the Word spoken in our worship. He is here in our worship service as He speaks to you in Scripture readings, the sermon, and the Absolution, He is here in and with the bread and wine to give us the body and blood of Christ, personally and individually.

It is the same kind of day. Although it is likely you will not see tongues of fire or hear the wind, He is here. Not in some sort of spooky sense, but God Himself is present because He has promised to be. Therefore when the church gathers, it is more than just a social group getting together. It’s more than just putting in an hour for some good cause, or even some good work. It is God Himself gathering you together, so that He can work on you and accomplish His good purpose in your lives. That’s what Pentecost is all about—the power of God’s Spirit at work in the lives of Spirit-filled people, building the Church of God here on Earth.

God’s Presence In Faith’s History

25 years ago a group of Spirit-filled people came together in a fledgling congregation and began to dig a basement out of a hillside on Bieker Road. Some of you are sitting here this morning; others were your fathers, your husbands, and your brothers in Christ. The foundational work they did, and all the subsequent planning and labor, stands as a demonstration of the power of God’s people on Earth. But it is not, and was not, the structure that caused the church to be and to grow. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers. Before there was a building there was a Church. Before there was a building there was right teaching and preaching of God’s Word; there were the sacraments and the forgiveness of sins.

There was all that was necessary to be Faith Lutheran, a Church of the true God. But the Holy Spirit gave the congregation abundant gifts. He gave Faith Lutheran the skill and resources to build a structure dedicated to the glory of God. But like that first Pentecost, the birth, establishment and growth of Faith Lutheran, is not only a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers, but it is a promise of even greater things in a world to come.

So this morning, on this “anniversary of the Church” while we take a deserved “time out” to reminisce about the times past, we must maintain the true course and goal of the true Church of God, we must take with glad hearts the command of our Lord to go out into the world and bring all nations to the foot of the cross. There to hear and see what God has done for all men. There to feel the healing power of God’s grace on a soul infected with sin.

Just outside the tiny town of Exira, Iowa, is a famous landmark. There is a legend that young farmer was out plowing his field when a group of Union soldiers passed by. Overwhelmed by patriotism, the young man leaned his plow against a young oak tree and left to join the Civil War—and never returned. Today, passersby stop at Plow-in-the-Oak Park to picnic by the once-young tree that grew and swallowed up the farmer’s once useful plow.

Goals are like that. If we set them aside for a time, we’re apt to find them swallowed up in the changing scene and rapidly growing world. Good goals should never be put aside, but pursued until, with the grace of God, they are achieved. We must continue to be about the building of the Church of God here on Earth and here in Washington, Missouri.

God’s Presence In Spirit-Filled People

That Pentecost recorded by Luke was a one-time event. But the world today still needs Spirit-filled people, swift as the wind, to take the word of God to people in languages that they can understand.  The world today still needs Spirit-filled people, strong as the wind, to run up and down the streets and lanes of Washington, Missouri proclaiming the Good News to a world incredibly depressed and grim, lonely and gloomy—the Good News of a Savior crucified and risen again. The Good News of a Savior who cares.

Brothers and sisters, members of Faith Lutheran Church, I contend that you have been and are still God’s Spirit-filled people.

Spirit-Filled People Care And Show It In Their Lives. They control their fears and overcome their flaws. They keep their sharp tongues and flaming tempers in check, They say with the apostle Paul: In the midst of life’s hardships and cruelties, we have found more than victory through Him who loved us. They triumph even over the final enemy, which is Death. They see their resurrected Lord come out of that dismal garden at the crack of the first Easter dawn, and they know the power of the Spirit He promised. They have no reason to go around any longer hanging sad and sorrowful. Instead, they go forth laughing and leaping, shouting and singing.

Spirit-Filled People Are Changed. Change is not all bad. If nobody could be changed were would we be? People are often rigidly inflexible, stubbornly bullheaded, and arrogantly right about everything. In almost every case, people like that are dead wrong. Spirit-filled people have to be ready for change, prepared to accept change—even change in themselves.

Spirit-Filled People See God At Work. Jesus Christ himself said that the Spirit is like the wind. you can see the results, even though you can’t see the wind. The Spirit is like the wind. It blows were it chooses He said. That’s the way the Spirit is. None of us can tell the Spirit what to do. We have to accept Him and His work. We have to recognize His power. We have to admit the changes He produces in ourselves and in others.

Spirit-Filled People Are “On The Go.” They are not the most consistent people in the world. The only thing consistent about them is that the Spirit moves them. Otherwise, you can never predict exactly what they are going to do. They will love when others are hateful. They will forgive when others are intent on getting even. They are ready to move when others are standing still. They are where the action is, not looking for the safe comfortable seats.

Spirit-Filled People Are Fiery. When God’s Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost, split tongues of fire sat on their heads. What happened? They were aglow with the Spirit and ablaze with God. They were fervent and fired up, “enthusiastic” in the first meaning of that word—filled with God. Spirit-filled people today are energetic and passionately committed to Jesus Christ. They spend their lives doing things for other people in the name of Jesus.

You might think that in a world of hate, strife, violence and war, who needs fiery and aggressive people who are angry and hot-tempered, making life a constant battle? Certainly, nobody needs them. But the world does need Spirit-filled people on fire for God, given to love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, patience and self-control. Those are gifts of the Spirit. The lives of Spirit-filled people embody them.

The world needs people on fire with faith graciously given them as a gift from God—on fire with love, on fire with the power of the Spirit, The world needs people who have left behind those former days of apathy and lukewarm commitment. It needs people who are revved up for Christ, turned on for God, fiery and fervent followers of Christ: dreaming impossible dreams, bearing impossible loads, fighting unbeatable foes, and “marching into hell itself,” with a heavenly cause.

The fire of the Spirit crackles with life. That’s the way it is with Spirit-filled people. They are alive. They are energetic. They are active. They are vibrant. They are on the move and on the go for God. They are not out to hurt people, but to help them. They know the task is monumental and the time is short. The Spirit moves them to be God’s people with confidence and a zest to touch the lives of others with the Good News.

Spirit-Filled People Are Alive. They don’t go around with long faces and set lips. They are not always shaking their heads and saying “no.” Their greatest word is “yes.”

Spirit-Filled People Have A New Language. There are fewer foul, filthy, sharp, profane, vicious, wounding words. Spirit-filled people are empowered and moved to speak words that heal and gladden and soothe and reconcile; building people up instead of tearing them down. People are attracted to them because they have compassion and love.

The Spirit of the Lord fills the world. He is here and He is busy. He is doing exactly what Christ said He would do.  When the counselor comes…the Spirit of Truth, …He will bear witness to me. That’s what the Spirit is doing: Telling people the Good News of God as you have it in Jesus Christ.

Like most Christians, we sit like rocket ships on the launching pad, ready for orbit but never used. We are like Christmas trees never sold, or beautiful paintings never hung; or a CD unplayed. We spend a lifetime seemingly studying God’s Word, listening to His commands, and fellowshipping in His Church; but seldom do we do what God has called each and every one of us to—to take His Word to all people, to witness to the atoning work of Christ Jesus. But Spirit-filled people are different. They hear God speaking and they respond.

God’s Presence In Us As Spirit-Filled People

There is forgiveness from God for you. Jesus Christ died for you. That’s the Spirit talking to you today. If it were not for the Spirit of God, the message would have long since died. There is new life from God for you in Jesus Christ.  It comes by faith, and it acts by love. That mission would long since have died if the Spirit of God were not active. The message and the mission are yours to take with you each day, and, as true believers, the Spirit of God seeks to talk through you, to further the message and mission thorough you, each day.

There have always been people like those at the first Pentecost who have asked, “what does this mean?” It is a good question. This means exactly what the rest of the book of Acts tells us: repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ happen all the time through the power of God’s Spirit. The wind is blowing and the fire is burning. Jesus has gone to the place of His lordship, and His Spirit has taken His place here on Earth. It is just as Jesus said, If I do not go away the Spirit cannot come.

Jesus went to His cross, to His grave, and then to His glory—to His Father. Returning to Heaven and picked up the mantel of power and authority which was His before time, and which He had set aside to humble himself to become man.  By going to Calvary, by lying in that garden grave, and then triumphantly rising from the dead, and by returning to His seat of power in Heaven, God’s Spirit comes, richly and fully, to enliven the lives of ordinary people, people like you and like me, and to bring us to Jesus. As people redeemed by God have just got to be filled with His Spirit. Otherwise, you would not be trusting in God, hoping in God. You are alive. You are forgiven and forgiving. You are loved and loving. You are Spirit-filled.

The Spirit of the Lord speaks Word of God. Listen to Him and renew your belief in Jesus your Savior every day. The Spirit of God lights your fire today and fans the flames with the wind of His power. Use the gifts He has given you to build and strengthen the Church on Earth and bring souls to the family of God. Believe, hope and trust in God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My prayer for you is that the grace of our Father Almighty, the love of the Son who redeemed you, the power of the Spirit who brought you to the one true faith, and the peace of God which passes all understanding, be and abide with you. Amen.

Acknowledgement and thanks to Rev. Oswald Hoffman for the inspiration of Spirit-filled people from a sermon heard in 1990 by a young impressionable seminarian.

 

Luke 4:1-13 First Sunday in Lent—C


the_war_in_the_desert_libya

Battle in the Desert

Luke 4:1-13

Not too long ago, a friend jokingly said that if it were not for the War many conversations and preachers would fall silent. He may be right. Iraq, to Afghanistan, Desert Storm, the War on Terror, Somali War, Libyan War, Egyptian Civil War—IT IS TRUE that we are seemingly bombarded with information about war, and it has become the background of our lives. One online source documents at least 36 different wars, civil wars, and armed conflicts around the world since 2001

I would like to give you one image of war that I recently encountered. A young woman, stands sobbing, her shoulders slumped, her head bowed. Everything about her speaks of fear and sadness. She is a living victim of the war that is going on around her every day. She speaks haltingly, and the sense of helplessness fills her words. “I am afraid to walk outside, I am afraid to sleep at night. As soon as one attack ends and I put myself back together, there starts another, and another, and another. They come and threaten my life—or maybe worse, destroy everything, everyone I find important. I don’t feel that I can go on. Help me.”

These are not the words of a young person in Benghazi experiencing the bombs of the Gaddafi forces day after day, night after night, but they could be. They are not the tears of a fearful woman in Somalia suffering under ethnic and civil conflict, continually fearing the next attack, the one that might come to her neighborhood or target her family, but they could be. However, these are the words of a young American teen, a Christian since baptism, she has recently gone to college away from home. A young woman who is so assaulted by the pressures of the world on one hand, and the perceived demands of her faith to lead a “good” life on the other, with the result that every day is a war for her. She knows the world holds no eternal reward for her, yet everything sees and hears and is being taught directs here to trust in reason and what she can learn and know and do. She knows too, the verses learned in Catechism, and the 10 Commandments. In a world that holds that there are no absolutes of right or wrong, hey too have become demands she feels powerless to meet. She sees no way to win her war. So often this is exactly how we loose our young people—casualties of the war being waged against them, against us.

Over the past months and years, the scenes and pictures of war and armed uprisings have become very familiar to us. Attack and counter-attack are recounted in vivid detail through the reports on the TV, in the magazines and on the news feeds on our computers and smart phones. As Christians, we have always been keenly aware of the terminology of war. We proudly call ourselves Christian Soldiers. Our Scriptures are full of the recounting of battles and confrontations. We read Paul and the Evangelists who tell how our Heavenly King vanquished the forces of darkness and death, and the glory that such victory has won. We sing of Jesus Christ as our Fortress, our shield and weapon. We cannot ignore these images of war, for as Christians we are truly in a constant battle for our very lives. The Devil is always looking for the way to separate us from God. In todays Gospel, Luke tells us of one such battle—a battle in the desert between Christ Jesus and the Prince of Darkness. A battle the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded for us, so that we see how we too can do battle with the Devil, and win.

The Attack—The Tricks of the Devil

Luke takes us from the banks of the Jordan and Jesus’ baptism, to the inhospitable wilderness. In the waters of the Jordan, God the Father had announced to the world that Jesus was the Christ, the Holy One of God—The beloved Son of God. And Jesus was given the power of the Holy Spirit, the power to effect and complete the plan of God to save mankind. The plan of God that would have Him give up his life in a painful death. Then, in the Judean wilderness, in that deserted region, the Devil comes to Jesus after a fast of forty days, after a period in which the “mantel of Messiah’“ so recently placed upon him, must have hung heavy and close, and the Devil begins his attack on Jesus. He takes the proclamation of the Father and uses it like a surgical knife and cuts to the soul, the very human soul of Jesus. “Since you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” You can almost hear the acrimony drip from his words: “After all that’s what He said isn’t it? If you believe that you are the Son of God, why not use your majestic powers and take care of your hunger.” “Son of God—hungry? isn’t there something just a little odd about this picture?” “Come on Jesus, if you are who you believe you are.”

1.              Sowing seeds of Doubt – using God’s blessings for evil (v. 3)

The Devil was sowing seeds of doubt, asking Jesus to distrust the Father, to doubt the love of God. “Go ahead,” said Satan, “you got the power. You better handle it yourself.”

The Devil sows those same seeds today, and you and I are fertile ground. How often do we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” yet anguish over how the bills will get paid or how you can fit some overtime into your schedule to ‘beef up’ the paycheck. We pray, “God is gracious, God is good, let us thank Him for our food—although it isn’t very much; it’s all I can afford. Tomorrow I’ll have to work too long for too little, and not do much better.” We look at the promises of God and say, “if God loves me so much, why do I feel so bad?” “Why don’t I ever get the lucky break?” “Why don’t things happen for me like they do for other people?” Doubt. It burdens our heart and robs us of our peace.

And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone’.”

2.              The use of lies. (vv. 6,7)

Then the Devil, in a display of his power, takes Jesus to a high place and shows him all the treasures of all the kingdoms of the world. Power. Glory. Wealth. These could all be His, if He would but bow before the power of Satan. “Forget dying on the cross. Forget suffering and pain. You can have it all—NOW.”  After all, these were Satan’s, and he could give them to whomever he chose! Jesus knew that the Devil was lying. Satan has no kingdom but the eternal darkness to which God has consigned him. He seeks to pervert the creation of God. He occupies it, and plunders it, and reaps from it an evil harvest, a harvest of those forever damned with him—but it is not his.

The Devil displays for us his empty promises of paper wealth, and the hope for reward in this world. Every day we are exposed to all those things that are necessary for the ‘good life’. Wealth. Power. Respect. The new car, the best grade, the trendiest wardrobe—the good life, or at least an easy place to sit when you are weary ‘because you earned it’. Satan displays them all around us every day. The standards of the world we live in. The standards of a world under siege and controlled by Satan, the propaganda of his war against God and all God-followers. As we accept the standards set up by Satan and make them our goal and security, we take hold of an inheritance in this world—a world condemned to eventual and complete destruction.

And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’.”

temptation close_crop3.              Perversion of Scripture (vv. 10,11)

Then, lead by the Devil, Jesus stands at the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Devil challenges Jesus to prove that he is who he says he is. “Go ahead and jump Jesus. Since you are the beloved Son of God, He will surely allow no harm to come to you, right?? After all, that’s what your Scriptures say.” This double attack is meant to be the final triumphant assault on the enemy. “Okay, you’ve made your point,” says Satan, “but are you willing to bet your life on it?” “If the Scriptures you like so well are true, jump. The heavenly rescue squad will surely save you from harm.”

We too fall victim to this subtle attack. Like a precisely guided smart bomb, this weapon is saved for the Christian. The Christian who is confident in his faith, trusts in God’s word. A Christian, like you and like me. The devil starts pulling from us those things in which we find the most comfort—health, security, loved ones. “After all,’” says Satan, “you are the one who says that all you need is Jesus.” And who among us, when challenged to prove a point he has made, does not feel compelled to comply? We, who have the power of God through faith, surely posses the power to overcome the challenges of the world and its ways. But so often it is a hollow confidence. We unnecessarily expose ourselves to danger and risk, saying “but I’m a Christian, I’m saved.” We pray for the well being of our children, but neglect put in their hands and hearts the Catechism and the Scriptures; we neglect to give them a model for Godly living. You pray to God to save your soul, but you absent yourself from the very means of grace provided for that purpose. Church attendance, study of the Word of God, and partaking of the Sacraments are neglected.

And Jesus says, ‘It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.’

The Defense—The Word of our God and the power of the Spirit

“And when the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him, and awaited an opportune time.’

1.              Our comfort—Christ

We often loose our battles with the devil. Our human nature is powerless before the lies, deceptions, and temptations of Satan. Sin spoiled the wonderful creation of God. Satan has taken hold of the world and exploits it. Satan has a hold on us. In his hands we become reluctant warriors against God.

Christ overcomes our foe on our behalf. At the brink of Lenten season, a time when we are brought face to face with the details of God’s plan of salvation, we look back, briefly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John writes that ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil.’ In every instance when Satan has confronted Jesus, he has lost. Jesus has the power. Jesus Christ is the Divine and Holy Son of God. And His plan of salvation is so designed that all he does, all his victories, are ours as well. Satan has not only lost the battle, he has lost the war. He stands judged and condemned. Jesus, our Lord and God, out of love humbled himself and took on the flesh of man. He lived as a man and died as a man. But he lived and died very differently then you or I or any man. Jesus would not sin, yet he would die on account of sin, he would die as the most sinful man ever to live. But the Sin he took to his death on the cross was your sin, and my sin. All the sins of the entire world were his at his death. And he paid the debt for sin—he paid our debt for sin. The victory over the Devil is complete. Everyone who believes that Jesus is Lord, the Son of the Living God receives this new inheritance. That which we could never obtain for ourselves becomes our crown of glory. We become victorious and heirs of the salvation Christ won for us.

2.              Our defense—Scripture and the Power of the Spirit

Christ’s victory over the Devil was perfect and complete. But God loved us and deemed to do more. Just as the Devil will remain as a reality in the World to the Last Day, so God will also remain to give us power and strength. (Picking up the Bible) He gave us His Words, recorded in Scripture. The same powerful words used by Jesus against the Devil in the Wilderness are here. The powerful words of creation are here, as well as the words of love and history of the Chosen People of God are here. The most important words for us are here also. The Word of God’s love for you and me are here. The plan of God to effect our salvation and the promise of eternal life are here. Here, in the Word of God, we are shown the loving face of our Lord and Savior.

We have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that anointed Christ at His baptism, and empowered Christ to complete the work of salvation, was freely given to you and me at our Baptism. Through the power of the Spirit we were brought to faith. Through the power of the Spirit, the Word of God reveals to us the love of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can face the devil and all his ways, and the victory of the desert is ours again.

Conclusion

The powers of God in the Spirit, and the reality of the love of God in the Scripture, are the gift of God to preserve us in this world until eternal life. These are your weapons against the attacks of the Devil. He is leading the assault against us. He is the one who mounts the war against us through his generals: The World, Our Flesh, and Death. Through study of the Word, the Spirit strengthens us. Through the sacraments the Spirit empowers us. The Word of God gives us great power; it gives us, as our own, the power of Christ over death and the Devil. It gives us the assurance of Eternal Life. It gives us the way, the only way, to win the war we fight every day

Ash Wednesday 2013


confess

Repent!

Man, yesterday was great. I went out early to that supermarket that bakes fresh 7 days-a-week and picked up Pączki for the family for breakfast. Friends introduced us to this Polish Tuesday-before-Ash Wednesday tradition and we have enjoyed Pączki Day for over 30 years. In a similar vein German Americans have traditionally celebrated with a traditional doughnut called Faschnacht. If you background leans a little more to being English, yesterday would have been Pancake Day.

Whatever the cultural variation, the day had a purpose, eating rich foods on the Tuesday-before-Ash Wednesday was a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally fasted from during Lent.

And then let’s not forget those who celebrate Fat Tuesday with a party or carnival—for two weeks St. Louis French quarter, Soulard, has been host to the second largest Mardi Gras in the country—and Mardi Gras is simply French for ‘Fat Tuesday.’ Just about wherever Lent is celebrated, Fat Tuesday traditions have grown up.

Like many traditions, while the ‘fun’ and ‘traditional’ aspects endure and are celebrated far and wide, the reason for the tradition is largely forgotten or set aside as no longer relevant. Why would Christian households commit the day before Ash Wednesday to emptying the pantry of butter, fat, and sugar? The answer is not in the donuts or the pancakes, or the rich Mardi Gras foods—as much as we like them. With the pantry cleaned out, the Christian family is prepared for the traditional fasting that is associated with Lent.

A few of the liturgical traditions still remember or use the old term Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ means to have been shriven before Lent, an old English way of saying to [be prepared] to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession. Here then is the other traditional aspect of Lent: that is confession so that one may obtain absolution for sin. Lent prepares us to approach the Cross on Good Friday, approach shriven, approach having contemplated our sins, not just to have made a list of them, but to have pondered anew the great need we have for a Savior from our sin; to contemplate the gravity of our sin—sin so deep, so dark, that it required nothing less than that the Son of God would die that we could be reconciled to God.

Ash Wednesday is set aside yearly as a day of repentance, a day to contemplate your sins and to be sorry for your sins. Not matter your Christian tradition, it is not too late to be shriven—and it doesn’t require you to go to IHOP or Drive-In Donuts. Repent! Hold up your life, your thoughts, your pet sins before the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments and see how far we are from His holy will.

But to recognize sin is not enough, to make a list of all our sins, even if we could, is not enough. Repentance, true repentance, requires that you turn away from your sin. To turn away from excess during Lent just to pick it up again in spades after Easter is no true Lenten discipline. In the same way, to confess your sin, but not turn aside from it, to not change your life, your actions, your sinful behavior, but to return to them—that is not true repentance. Empty ‘sorrys’ come so easily off our lips. Like many who celebrate Fat Tuesday with no intention of being shriven, we throw ‘sorrys’ around with no understanding or intention to do anything really different. Your “I’m sorry,” no matter how heartfelt, is insufficient if it is not joined with the change needed to not commit that sin again.

God despaired of our sin. Yet, instead of acting in righteous judgment against us, He sent His Son to die for our sin, so that we might live with Him forever. The weight of your sin–my sin, the heavy yoke of it, crushed the Lord on the cross, so that we would not have to be crushed into the grave forever. He drank to the dregs the bitter cup of God’s wrath against our sin, so that in true faith we receive the sweet cup of blessing in Christ.

While we turn our attention to confessing our sin on this Ash Wednesday, all the more let us turn our lives to lives of repentance-lives where we continually hold ourselves accountable to God and to each other, lives where we sorrow over sin AND seek the God-given strength to turn from our sins. This is the work the Holy Spirit does in us, the daily drowning of the old sinful man and the bringing forth of the New Man—this is the daily remembrance of our Baptism that strengthens us.

Confession has two parts, first, to confess our sins, and second to receive absolution. Absolution, the sweet word of God that announces that your sins are forgiven. Absolution, the sweet Gospel that on account of Christ, God sets aside the punishment of your sin.

It’s Ash Wednesday. Repent! Then hear the Word of forgiveness with the assurance that your sins are truly forgiven by God in heaven.

Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (L22)

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Luke 1:57–80 Nativity of St. John the Baptist


Sermon for The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Luke 1:57–80
Preached at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, IL
June 24, 2012

Hannibal Smith, leader of TV’s often bumbling A-Team, was known to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The irony is that often the team was way off-plan, or had just benefited from a quirky unplanned series of events.

In my work at Concordia Publishing House, when a plan comes together, it means that I have a new issue of Portals of Prayer to send out to our customers, or a new book has been printed, or a new Sunday School or Vacation Bible School has been completed and is ready to teach our children about their Savior. I don’t live in the fiction of TV, so for me, when a plan comes together it means a lot of smaller plans had to be made and finished along the way. Some of those plans are budgets. Others are how I will work with authors to get completed manuscripts from them; how we will get designers to add art and make the words look great on a page; how copy editors will make sure that great words have been used and the message is understood; and the plan includes those special people called proof readers who read everything we publish to ensure the ‘t’s are crossed, the ‘i’s dotted, and the commas are in just the right places. Unlike the Col. Smith and the A-Team, it would seem that little is left to chance.

“I love it when a plan comes together.” And yet, as carefully as I plan, and as closely as I work the plan, things don’t always happen according to plan. Budgets can be blown when suppliers raise the price of printing or paper. Sometimes authors don’t understand what it really takes to write something to be published, and they can’t keep to the deadlines. Sometimes authors take calls to be Chaplain at the International Center and their new plan trumps my plan*, and something new has to be figured out. Sometimes the planning wasn’t as good as we thought and things pile up together, and choices need to be made and priorities set that weren’t part of the plan to begin with. As much as we try there is no perfect plan, because there are no perfect people.

The Bible shows us that the God of love, wisdom, knowledge, and power is also the perfect planner. How wonderful it is to have someone who never lies, forgets, or bungles a job, be in charge of the universe, human history, and human destiny. In our text for this festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, we have a wonderful example of this. We get to see and hear God’s plan coming together.

I.

We all know plans don’t always work out. Even good plans fail. Sometimes our plans fail because we have good plans that we simply don’t carry out. We procrastinate, allow ourselves to get side-tracked. We lose our focus or we lose our resolve. How often do we make resolutions to eat better, quit smoking, loose some weight–all good plans–but how many of us actually complete the plan, finish the good we had resolved to do? This can be what Paul was talking about when he said,

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19).

Paul might also be speaking of a second reason our plans don’t always work out as we hope. That is the failure to determine what is really good. We work our plan. We achieve our objectives. But then we arrive at our intended destination and discover it wasn’t what we really wanted, needed, or envisioned it to be. Sometimes our plans are foiled because we forget what a messed-up, fallen, sinful world this is; we expect our plans to sail through. Then when things blow up in our faces, rather than taking setbacks as part of life in this fallen world, it can leave us cynical, and Murphy’s Law becomes our mantra: “If anything can possibly go wrong, it will!” This negativity discourages others around us and often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sometimes our plans fail because the people we rely on let us down. The leaders we campaign for, vote for, and pray for fail for the same reasons we do. But they are not the only ones that let us down. Employees or bosses don’t follow through. Spouses get involved in their own plans and don’t finish a job that was started. Parents, brothers, sisters, and friends can all be source of frustration when promises are not kept, plans fall through, and we seem to be left with pieces to pick up.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans fail. Our dreams can go unrealized and our hopes can be dashed for so many reasons. Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both our own sin and the sin of others.

II.

Master of the Life of Saint John the Baptist (Italian)
Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist, probably 1330/1340
Samuel H. Kress Collection

In our text, Zechariah had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in his plans, Zechariah was quite sure God’s plan, the promise of a Savior made to Adam and Eve all those years before, wouldn’t work out.

You remember the grand news. The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah and announced that he and Elizabeth, his wife, would have a son, John, the one who came to be called the Baptist. But even more, that meant the Messiah, promised for thousands of years, was coming right now too,  because John’s job would be to prepare the way for him. All according to God’s glorious plan witnessed throughout the Old Testament.

Of course, Zechariah’s life experiences told him this plan was a long shot at best. He and Elizabeth were way too old! God must have been distracted and missed the window of opportunity to give them the child they had undoubtedly prayed for. What’s more, the world was just too corrupt. The pagan rulers of Rome and the even the religious rulers in Jerusalem were surely too great an obstacle for God to overcome in Zechariah’s lifetime. Maybe in time. the plan could might work. Maybe God could catch a few lucky breaks and get a far-off future opportunity for the Messiah to come and establish a better kingdom and a better era. Maybe God could whittle away at evil and slowly establish another time of milk and honey flowing through the Promised Land.

So Zechariah didn’t believe this plan of God revealed to him by the angle Gabriel. It was happening, not now, not with him. For all of his trouble to believe in God, Zechariah was struck speechless. The Lord gave Zechariah ‘a time out,’ nine months of imposed “quiet time” to watch before his very eyes the beginnings of what he had counted as impossible.

III.

John’s birth signaled that all God’s plans were coming together. During the pregnancy, Zechariah had time to ponder with a new appreciation his relationship to the Lord and all the plans God had put in writing in the Old Testament (vv 57–64). Zechariah undoubtedly contemplated the meaning of the name given his son. Why John? It means “The Lord has shown favor.” He and Elizabeth knew they were highly favored by the Lord to have this child in their old age. See, they’d been in his plans all along! Zechariah may also have thought about the name his parents had given him. Zechariah means “The Lord remembers.” What does the Lord remember? Thankfully, not the sins and failings of his people. No, He remembers his gracious covenant plans, and He fulfills them.

Zechariah was a changed man. When he wrote: “His name is John,” on that tablet, Zechariah confessed that now his will was aligned with God’s will–with God’s plan. Now God let Zechariah speak again, but this time with more insight and respect for his Lord (vv 67–79). The words the Spirit brought to Zechariah’s lips is the second of four songs recorded by St. Luke in his Gospel. Zechariah’s song has been sung as part of the liturgy of the Church since at least the ninth century. In our liturgy this canticle, or biblical song, is called the Benedictus and it gets its name from the first word of the canticle “Blessed be,” as it was translated into Latin. Today we see the Benedictus in our Hymnal appointed as part of the prayer service of Matins.

And how did the words of this beautiful song pop into Zechariah’s head? God caused him to remember over a dozen Old Testament passages filled with promises that were now being fulfilled. The Benedictus affirms that indeed God’s plan had come together. But more than just recalling the plan of God, Zechariah sang a prophesy that God’s plan to send the Messiah was being fulfilled in his little son, John, the forerunner.

God had Isaiah speak concerning the Messiah’s forerunner over seven hundred years earlier “A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”(Isaiah 40:3–5) and He had not forgotten His plan. Then some four hundred years before John’s coming God sends Malachi  to speak again of the forerunner, saying, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.”  (Mal 3:1; also 4:5–6). He hadn’t forgotten the plan. John’s birth meant that God’s grand plan was now coming to completion: Jesus, the Messiah of God. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was coming at just the right time. Jesus lived the perfect life that mankind had failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind, mankind—you and me—who failed to keep God’s perfect Law all our sins atoned for, set aside, when He died on the cross. Jesus rose from the grave to demonstrate his victory on our behalf. Jesus, who will come again at just the right time, and according to His plan, to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.

Conclusion

Jesus has come and demonstrated God’s resolve and ability to deliver on all of his promises. John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus’ first coming. Today, the Church, made up of people like you and me, has been commissioned to prepare the world for Jesus’ final coming—also very much according to God’s plan. Do we doubt that this plan will ever really come to pass? Will we be speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel to be prepared for that day? Do we live our daily lives in a way that fails to remember and honor our God who is faithful and perfectly keeps His promises?

Let us instead praise God as Zechariah did, in full confidence of our faith and in testimony to our God who is perfectly faithful. We sing Zechariahs’ song because of what the promised Savior does for us, just as He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth and John and all of our ancestors in the faith. “The oath sworn to our father Abraham;” the plan of God to take care of our salvation has been fulfilled in the birth of Mary’s Son Jesus and in His life’s work for us. He has “delivered us from the hands of our enemies;” God’s plan to rescue us from sin, death, and Satan has been completed in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The work of John was to make known the identity of the Savior. With that completed, his task, his purpose was fulfilled. As John himself would say: “Behold, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John’s work is completed. But the Work of the Church continues—the work of pointing to Jesus continues.

And the announcement still happens today. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Today the man appointed by God to make known to you Jesus Christ will stand before you and place in your mouth your Lord’s true body and true blood in and under the bread and the wine. THERE in those humble and holy means, is the Lamb of God. And as we take and eat, and take and drink, we receive the forgiveness of sins, we testify that His death was sufficient, and we are witnesses that the plan of God for us is complete.

And then, being prepared by Jesus Himself through Word and Sacrament,  we go out from this place to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all of our days.”

Amen.

* A “shout out” to friend, and St. Paul’s dear and former pastor, William Weedon.

This sermon is drawn in large part from the outline and sermon of Rev. Robert Dargatz, published in the preaching journal, Concordia Pulpit Resources, for June 24, 2012 (CPR 22:4). © 2012 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.

Matthew 11:12-19 Festival of the Reformation


Neither Dance Nor Dirge

Matthew 11:12-19

photo by Teo’s photo on Flickr

Go to any farmer’s market, open-air craft fair, or urban street bazaar, and you can get a reasonable idea of the market Jesus is speaking about in our Gospel. The merchants arrive and set out their wares for the day, and soon the customers come looking for the best deals. And while this is going on, And kids will be kids, whether in ancient Palestine, or 21stcentury America. Playing happily one minute, the next minute the children are looking about for something to do. And then comes one of the most maddening, tedious conversations ever you will hear from child or adult:

“So, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.” “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.” “What do you want to do?”

“We could do this.”

“Nah, I don’t want to do that.”

“Oh, okay.” “How about this?”

“I really don’t want to do that either.”

“Huh.”“Yeah. I guess there’s nothing to do.”

Suggesting things to do, but the other person not only wants to do none of them, but neither do they offer an idea of what they might want to do. There are times when people are more focused on having a problem, than on finding a solution for the problem. Jesus presents a situation as a metaphor. There were kids that went to the marketplace, the gathering place, looking for something to do. But when some suggested they play wedding games, the other mates weren’t interested in doing that, they weren’t in the mood to dance and be happy; so they counter with the idea of a playing funeral games, but their mates don’t want to do that either, they weren’t in the mood to be mournful. They just weren’t in the mind for a solution.

I.

But Jesus isn’t talking about games around the marketplace. He’s talking about how his hearers regard salvation. They want a Savior; they just don’t want a savior like he is. They don’t want the message he proclaims, in fact, they would like him to change the message to suit them.

We can better understand what Jesus is talking about if we look back a few verses. The few brief verses of Gospel read earlier are part of a larger section in the Gospel of Matthew in which John the Baptist, then sitting in jail, has sent to Christ two of his disciples, with a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) When the messengers had gone back, Christ begins to teach the crowds concerning John. Part of that teaching is before us.

When John the Baptist preached he had a pretty austere lifestyle. Some today, if they were being charitable, might call him a minimalist. He lived in the wilderness eating locust and wild honey. He was the second Elijah pointing to the coming of the Messiah. John didn’t take a drink now and then, you didn’t find him at feasts; he was all about the business of being the messenger appointed by God. And his rugged ‘no frills’ lifestyle accentuated the message to repent, for the kingdom of God was at hand. Many went out to hear him preach, and as a result, many were baptized in the Jordan River. While many believed, many didn’t like what they heard. John’s message declared that man couldn’t find favor with God on his own; that his works count for nothing.

Now while they didn’t like what they heard, they had a hard time disputing what John said, because John’s preaching was in fact Scriptural. They needed another reason to justify why they would turn away from John. If you can’t impeach the message, impeach the messenger. So they took out after John’s lifestyle; any guy who lives out in the wilderness and wears camel’s hair, well he has to be a bit nuts, they even said that John might be demon-possessed. The implication is that surely you don’t want to be getting your spiritual advise from a lunatic, a demon-possessed lunatic, do you?

Then along comes Jesus, just as John had foretold. In fact, one day John outed Jesus from the crowd declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And although Jesus was the sacrificial lamb on the way to the cross, he did not live the austere lifestyle of John. Jesus travels from town to town, accepting and participating in the hospitality offered by others, eating and drinking what is wholesomely set before him. Christ first recorded miracle is while he is attending a wedding feast with his mother, and turns water into wine for the celebration.

Christ came to bring good news to the poor; to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3). And freely eating and drinking, and participating in the pleasant things of life, were in harmony with the message of Christ.

Both John and Jesus were preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In the terms of the children in the market place there were two games in town from which you could choose. If you didn’t like the ‘funeral dirge’ lifestyle of John, then chances are you would like the happier, freer lifestyle of Jesus. Yet while many did believe Jesus, the same people who rejected John rejected Jesus. The same ones who would say “don’t listen to John because he is so austere he must be demon possessed,” were the ones who said, “don’t listen to Jesus because he eats and drinks wine, so he must be a glutton and a drunk, and he eats with sinners and tax collectors; and we think he’s demon possessed too.”

How could they reject both John and Jesus for the opposite ways of life? If you are pleased with poverty, why did John displease you? If wealth pleases you, why did the Jesus displease you? They could reject both, because both preached the same message. Both preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Both proclaimed that man couldn’t save himself by his own works. Both proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God, the Savior, foretold by prophets, who would sacrifice himself for the sins of the world. That is a message that the enemies of the Gospel cannot take, because is it is a message that requires them to deny themselves, confess their sins, and trust in Christ.

So the strategy is clear, if you can’t impeach the message, impeach the messenger. Jesus came as the savior of all, and those who opposed him attacked his character by branding him a glutton and a drunk. And then they went on to say that, just as John had a demon, so too Jesus has a demon. In Mark 3 we hear how the Jewish scribes, declared that Jesus “ ‘is possessed by Beelzebub’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out demons’ “ (Mark 3:22).  And later in this Gospel, Matthew records how the Pharisees announced that “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that he casts out demons” (Matthew 12:24).

But that wasn’t enough. The sinful nature cannot stand the Gospel, because it knows that Gospel is the death of sin and death. And it is not enough to just turn from the Gospel, or even to bad-mouth it. Don’t underestimate sin’s hatred of grace. But because sin and sinners are so offended by it, those who reject it must get rid of the Gospel. What happened to John? His preaching against Herod’s open sin of adultery got him beheaded. And what of Jesus? You know. The chief priest and the Pharisees gathered false witnesses, staged a trial, and convinced Pilate to authorize his crucifixion. Sin would rather take life, even yours, rather than have you hear the Gospel. But sin did not shutter the Gospel, not by John’s death, not even by Jesus’ death.

The text takes us back to the greatest days this world has ever seen, when the Kingdom of Heaven came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ, when in John the Baptist the Old Testament reached its most radiant climax and the New Testament dawned.

In his commentary on Matthew, Dr. Jeffery Gibbs reminds us that our God is a God of history; that is he is “always engaged in his creation by coming into it with deeds—deeds of judgment and deeds of salvation.” Overall, there is a movement toward salvation, and moments come when God does something new. In his teaching about John, Jesus is laying it out plainly that in the ministry of John, God was doing a new thing. And if Jesus’ hearers failed to recognize what God was doing through John, then they would miss what God was doing through Jesus.

Let’s get back to our Lord’s teaching about the children. Those children who are sitting in the marketplace are the ones of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks: “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 8:18). And also the psalm: “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). And elsewhere: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2).

So those children who are signs to Israel sat in the marketplace, and because the Jews did not want to listen, the children not only spoke but shouted to them, at the top of their voices: “we played the flute for you, but you did not dance.” That is, we challenged you to do good deeds at the sound of our song and to dance to our flute, just as David danced before the ark of the Lord, and you did not want to. The children go on to say, “We sang a lament, but you did not mourn.” that is we challenged you to seek repentance, and the Jews did not want to do even this.

The children’s two invitations, that is the Lord’s dual path to salvation was equally rejected since the Jewish leadership scorned both poverty and wealth alike. One was called a man with a demon, the other a glutton and a drunkard. Therefore, because you did not want to accept either teaching, then the teaching of God is that“ wisdom is justified from her own deeds.” Jesus certainly said about himself. For Jesus is Wisdom itself. According to St. Jerome, Jesus, who is the glory of God and the wisdom of God, has been acknowledged to have acted justly by his sons, those who preach and teach rightly about the kingdom of God, those to whom the Father unveiled what he had hidden from wise, experienced people (adapted from Jerome’s Commentary on Matthew 2.11.16).

Beginning his teaching with the term “this generation,” Jesus is certainly speaking directly of his contemporaries in Palestine. And yet, as long as there remain those who war-against the kingdom of God, there remains a theological significance to the Lord’s words for all generations. Many today do not want to be called sinners, do not want to be called out as being in need of repentance. Many today want to party on their own terms rather than to rejoice on the terms of grace set out by Jesus. Christ’s unconditional grace strips us of all our own supposed righteousness, all our claims, and declares us instead to be needy beggars who have nothing to offer but can only receive.

Apart from the Holy Spirit, by human wisdom alone, this gift of grace is a gift that we too would despise. If we find ourselves regularly acknowledging our sin, living lives of repentance, and rejoicing in the gracious Messiahs’ love and forgiveness—to God be the glory, for these are the only gifts offered by God to save his people from their sin through his Son, Jesus Christ.

II.

Today we are gathered to celebrate the Festival Reformation. Normally our festival days celebrate events that happen in the Bible. But today we celebrate a series of events that happened nearly fifteen centuries after the Ascension of Jesus. The first commemorations of the Reformation were annual thanksgiving services for the translation of the Bible into the German language or to commemorate the introduction of the Reformation. Luther’s Pastor, Johnnes Bugenhagen already provided for such a celebration as early as 1528. In 1543—still three years before the Reformer’s death, as part of the church orders for the churches in Brunswich (1543), Bugenhagen set the date for the annual thanksgiving as St. Martin’s Day, in memory of Luther’s birth on St. Martin’s Eve. Later, some church orders appointed the service to be held on the Sunday after the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24), since the Augsburg Confession was presented on June 25. After the Thirty Years’ War (1618—1648) the Elector of Saxony appointed October 31 as the day of thanksgiving.

But it is still an important day. So much so, that some have stated that Martin Luther was as essential to the Church in his time as John the Baptist was to the church in the opening days of the New Testament. So now you understand why this Gospel from Matthew 11 is appointed for Reformation.

Another tradition that ties the readings for this Festival Day to our reformer is the suggestion that the angel in our First Reading from Revelation 14 (:7), is none other than Martin Luther, messenger of God in what is certainly the Last Days of the Church. 18th century Lutheran theologian Christoph Starke comments on Revelation 14: 6-7:This shows that the teacher would emerge in the Church, go forth, and be seen and heard by everyone in the Church. This sermon has true repentance as its goal. It indicates the words of the eternal Gospel clear enough. This eternal Gospel is also the central point of all divine wisdom and doctrine, as the angel few in the midst of heaven. . . Those who see this as being fulfilled explain it thus: It applies to a specific teacher that is supposed to reform and purify the Church under the Antichrist. Thus it refers to Luther with his helpers who began the Reformation.

C.F.W Walther himself, and others in the LCMS, understand this verse as foretelling typologically Luther’s work as the reformer. That is why Walther picked Revelation 14:7 as the verse for the fledgling Synods theological and news publication: Der Lutheraner, and why the angel of Revelation 14:7 flew on its masthead.

Whether St. John saw and recorded a revelation or prophecy of Luther we cannot say for sure. But we dare not downplay that the Lord used Luther, according to his will, to preach the Gospel to all nations. The Gospel had been all but lost by 1500’s. The Church had slowly replaced the teaching of God’s mercy and grace for the forgiveness of sins, with the teaching that the only way to salvation was to do good works and meritorious living in quantitates sufficient to out-weigh the sin in one’s life.

This was the church and the teaching that Luther grew up in. He grew to hate God, for as he was taught, he believed that God required him to keep a law he couldn’t keep in order to be saved. Thanks be to God that this despair did not drive Luther from the Church. Instead, what Luther rediscovered in the Scriptures rocked his world—and the whole world, as a result. While certainly Luther deserved God’s judgment and condemnation for not keeping God’s law, it was also true that Jesus Christ had died as the perfect sacrifice upon the cross for his sin. And the forgiveness that Christ secured on the cross was given as a free gift to all, along with the faith to believe it. The Reformation that was thus begun was the result of Luther, working within his calling as a pastor and doctor of the church, notifying the church of the truth, and calling for the church to abandon its teaching of salvation by works and returning the Bible’s teaching that by Christ’s death, salvation had been won for the sins of the world. Luther preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

What was the Church’s response? They refuted his teachings. Those in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church called him a glutton and a drunk, a wild boar, and servant of Satan. But that wasn’t enough. It is not enough to just turn from the Gospel, or even to bad-mouth it. Again, don’t underestimate sin’s hatred of grace, and those who reject it must get rid of the Gospel. Luther was declared a heretic, and in that day, a heretic was also an enemy of the state—it was a capital crime; they declared open season on Luther making it legal to kill him, if they could catch him. They wanted him gone because Luther’s teaching that salvation was free for sake of Jesus is the death of any teaching of salvation earned by good works. But the Lord preserved Luther’s life for many more years so he could further the work of the Reformation

Since the days of John the Baptist until even now, the church has suffered violence, and the violent seek to take it by force. But Wisdom is justified by her deeds. The Wisdom of God is that the Gospel will be preached until he returns in glory—the ultimate Day of Judgment revealed to John and recorded for us in the last book of the Bible. You and I don’t live in times, or locations, where violence is directed at us for speaking the Gospel. But there are plenty of Christians around the world who suffer violence, even death, for speaking the truth of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to others. It is good for us to pray for those who are persecuted for the faith around the world. And it is good for us to give thanks for the rare and historic privilege of gathering together in worship in peace, without persecution or violent mobs surrounding us. All in all, here in this country, we have it pretty easy for the moment

However, we must remain vigilant, for it is exactly at the times of peace or prosperity that we are most in danger of loosing the Gospel. It makes sense. When death is a daily threat, you want to cling to the eternal life that Christ has won. In times of peace and prosperity, salvation seems less important, and Christians tend to get distracted. The proclamation is not as sweet when death shadow and God’s wrath don’t feel so close at hand. And that is when the church starts to stray to make the faith about improving and enjoying life here, or to compromise and call sin and false teaching okay. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are happy to nudge us along this path because they hate the Gospel and like nothing better than to see it overthrown, in big ways certainly, but no more so than on individual basis. It is only when we truly understand the consequences of our sin and the reality of death, that we are thirsty for the Gospel.

So remember Jesus’ words that He spoke about himself: “Wisdom is justified by her works.“ Only Christ, and Him crucified, is the Wisdom of God. And only Christ our crucified and risen Lord has grace and forgiveness for you. Don’t judge this Wisdom by it’s reputation in the world. The world will always declare the Church, at best, useless, or the source of all evil, as long as it proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. Don’t measure the Wisdom of God by the preacher. Preachers come and preachers go. Some might eat locust, some might spend time eating with sinners; but the measure of the messenger is the message. The measure of the preacher is whether he preaches the Word of God. Don’t measure the Wisdom of God by the congregation. Congregations will vary in size, appearance, and energy levels. But the measure of a congregation is it’s confession of faith—what it believes; what it declares. If it declares the Wisdom of God: that you are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone, that is the place to be. That wisdom is justified by its works because it works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all those who believe.

You have been rescued from a generation that did not want to confess Jesus is Lord. Several generations, in fact. In truth, every generation. Wherever the sinful flesh exists, there you will find enemies of the Gospel. It is easy on such a day as this, to point to the Reformation  or to the Saxon immigration even the founding of our own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as the days of deliverance of the Church. But then we would overlook the faithful work of congregations in every age that have faithfully proclaimed the Gospel, even yours now in this age. And by the grace of God, in those congregations you hear the Gospel and believe what it says. You hear that Christ has died for your sins, that he has made you his own in your baptism and that he gives you everything that you need for your body and life, including feeding you with his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

In a world darkened by sin, the Lord has made you wise unto salvation, counts you among his redeemed and beloved children. From countless altars in faithful congregations, the Lord shines the light of His salvation through the Means of Grace to you. “The Word forever shall remain, No thanks to foes, who fear it; He’s by our side, upon the plain, With weapons of the Spirit,” namely, His means of Grace, so that for the sake of Jesus you are forgiven all your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thanks for ideas and content to Pastor Timothy Pauls, Jerome, Christoph Starke, Hilary, Herbert Lindemann, Oskar Pank, Pastor Chad Kendall, and Dr. Jeffery Gibbs.

Titus 2:11-14 Christmas Eve


Christmas Is for Giving

Titus 2:11-14

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the ads for high-end Christmas gifts this year and shook your head in disbelief—the custom made guitar for $12,000, his and hers sport aircrafts for $250,000, the special edition Jaguar XJL for $105,000, or the handbag with matching boots for just under $3,900 (Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book).

And you have certainly heard the reports of our troubled economy: unemployment rate of 9.4%, mortgage foreclosures rose by 23% over the 2008 rate, homelessness and use of food pantries has nearly doubled in some areas.

It may have occurred to you that we live in a world that has gone completely mad in its values; that in over 2,000 Christmases we still have not caught on that name of the game of life, as God wants it lived, is self-giving in love.

So we have come here to this quiet church this cold and rainy evening to sing and say and hear and do all those things, that especially on this Holy Eve, bring us as close to the mind and heart of God as we can hope to get on this side of heaven; and try to see clearly just what God, our Father, wants us, His children in Christ, to know and do.

As is often the case with the Scripture readings for the great feasts of the Church Year, the Gospel for Christmas tells the story, the narrative of the event, and the Epistle concerns itself more with the meaning, the significance, of the Christ event. The traditional Epistle for the late service of Christmas Eve is Titus 2:11-14. In his letter to young pastor Titus, the Apostle Paul sets down in one sentence the central meaning of the Holy Nativity that we celebrate this evening—the truth that Christmas is for giving. St. Paul writes:

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 Continue reading

Luke 24:44-53 Ascension


Happy Objects of Grace

Luke 24:44-53

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

St. Luke has been gathering together on Ascension for so long, you may be surprised to know that many a church is dark this evening. The Ascension, long a pillar in the church year, has lost its standing even among our own Synodical fellowship. But this is no modern problem. St. Mark reports Christ “upbraided [the disciples] on account of their unbelief and hardness of heart.” He upbraided them—rebuked them, chastised them, corrected them. God is no lover of faithlessness and though well-pleased with His Beloved Son, often in His disciples He was less than pleased—less than pleased with their hardness of heart, and unbelief.  Does unbelief seem harsh? Well it is unbelief, for it was rooted and grounded—made manifest—in their not believing the reports of Jesus’ resurrection.

And sharing the faith of our father Adam, just like the Disciples we have hardness of heart and unbelief. We’d like to think that we’re different, but perhaps not? Scripture reports over and over that when Christ would come to this or that place, the whole village shows. Yet here, though Christ has come just as surely now as then, the whole village has not gathered; much less our whole congregation. But before you mistake me, I am not here preaching to you about those who for whatever reason have not come. This day is no different than any other—there are no days of holy obligation, that is, this is not a day that it is required that one attend to the Service of the Church, indeed Christ’s Holy Communion. And that’s why you’ve come, isn’t it? You, like those precious saints of old have also come asking, “Sir we would see Jesus!”

If that’s why you’ve come, you’ll not leave disappointed. You, just like me for so many years, you may have come to church tonight thinking that Ascension Day is a great day of celebration—and it is—a great day celebrating the Lord Jesus’ leaving for heaven—but it’s not. A great celebration it is, but we celebrate not His leaving, but rather we celebrate as the One True Church always celebrates: His coming—again and again and again until that day when, He shall come once and for all bringing that Eternal Feast which we partake of tonight now as a foretaste. Continue reading

Luke 24:36-49 Third Sunday of Easter B


FEAST OF VICTORY

Luke 24:36-49

Preached at Trinity/Cherokee, IA
Confirmation Sunday

I don’t imagine it is different here in Cherokee than it is anywhere else: a family’s busy schedule pulls children, even parents, in a dozen different directions at once. Everyone’s on the go and so meals have the tendency to be on the go too. There was a time in our American culture, where the family dinner table was a place of fellowship. Maybe you parents, certainly you grandparents, remember this. The evening dinner table was where the members of the family gathered together, not just to share the food, but also to share the conversation; to catch up on what was going on in each other’s life; to talk about the joys and the sorrows of each individual, and to strengthen and support each other through the love and unity of the family bond.

That great American institution seems to be on the wane. And, chances are, what goes with it is a regular time of mutual conversation and consolation. American families are growing up apart rather than together. Conversations have moved from face-to-face and intimate, to text messages and whatever can be expressed in 140-character tweets. Rugged American individualism has turned into isolated individuals, even between family members living under the same roof. Continue reading

Matthew 27:54—Passion (Palm) Sunday


“Truly This Was the Son of God!”

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

What was it that gave it away for this Centurion, this Roman soldier? How did he come to know that Jesus was the Son of God? This question that arises out of the Gospel of Matthew is really the mystery of the ages. It combines the two great gifts and mysteries of the Christian Church: that God became the man, and that God died on the cross for our salvation.

“Truly this was the Son of God.”

So what was it? Was it the thunder and lightening? Was it the temple veil being ripped in two? Was it the dead rising from their graves and going about in the city? What was it that proved to this Roman soldier that Jesus was the Son of God?

St. Paul pondered this question in the first hymn of the Christian Church, found in Philippians chapter 2. Hear a part of it again:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11) Continue reading

Mark 1:12-15—1st Sun. in Lent-b


THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

At our Lord’s baptism we stood in the waters of the Jordan and witnessed the gracious God who hears his peoples cry for mercy. We watched the heaven’s split open, and heard him announce, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:11) We spent the following weeks hearing from the Lord what it means that God declared Jesus to be the Son-we have witnessed miracles, healings and exorcisms. Then last Sunday on Transfiguration, we stood on the mountain with Peter, James and John Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him”.

“Hear Him,” for He knows what is best for you. “Hear Him,” for He is the one who is driven to save you from your sins.

Only the Messiah could-restore our sinful nature, and recreate the world as God’s good creation. It would not happen easily. It would be violent-Satan would attack God’s Son-and He would suffer and be killed in the most gruesome manner. Our Epiphany readings revealed to us who this Messiah is. Mark records the miracles and deeds of Christ to help establish his power and authority. Now in Lent, we again turn to the inspired holy writers to witness what this Messiah would have to do to complete the Father’s plan of salvation. We have ringside seats for the battle between Jesus and the Devil, between Good and the Forces of Evil.

This battle was not to be fought like we would have it fought. It is not fought with staff and banner held high, with the words of a strong hymn in our throats. NO! Instead of a triumphant forceful march out of the Jordan immediately after God’s announcement at Jesus’ baptism, He was driven into the wilderness to suffer temptation at the hands of Satan for forty days. He was driven by the Spirit to do this. Jesus baptism is one of suffering and of death because in the waters He stands as one of us, and He stands for us taking our sin upon him. What we deserved, He received. Continue reading